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U.S. universities, others protest Cuba travel restrictions.

Setting aside concerns about tough new Cuba travel restrictions that took effect Jun. 30, it seems that universities, people-to-people programs and church groups continue to plan study tours to the forbidden island--perhaps hopeful that a new administration will carry out promises to be more tolerant toward "meaningful travelers."

On the other hand, boaters are now banned from visiting Cuba under the government's elimination of the "fully hosted" category.

Previously, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control had looked the other way while Florida organizers held regattas leaving from St. Petersburg and Key West. A cooperative Cuban government issued sailors free visas, waiving the customary $20 charge in an effort to convince OFAC that boaters would actually not spend a penny on fuel, food, lodging or entertainment while docked at Havana's Marina Hemingway.

No more. In the wake of OFAC's tough new rules, yacht owners--not eager to see a red tag indicating their boat has been impounded--now sail to other ports.

It remains to be seen how universities will react to the new restrictions.

At least 30 institutions of higher learning already have Cuba "study abroad" programs. These programs have long been popular with students--particularly those from the Midwest--who hope to escape at least one harsh winter of their undergraduate years.

Moreover, study abroad tends to be less rigorous than study on the home campus and brings in a nice cash flow to the school, about $1,000 per week per student for short-term programs, less for long-term study.

INDIANA UNIVERSITY SHELVES CUBA PROGRAM

One of the first victims of the new limits on studying in Cuba appears to be a proposed Indiana University course in geography and telecommunications, which was to include 12 days of field work near the town of Santa Clara.

The course resulted from several years of talks between volunteers and university officials in Santa Clara, Bloomington's sister city.

But under OFAC's new rules, students are prohibited from traveling to Cuba for courses that last less than 10 weeks--effectively blocking IU from offering the course.

"We're just trying to figure out what's the best approach," Kathleen Sideli, director of IU's Office of Overseas Programs, told the Bloomington Herald-Times. "It seems like an extremely strict response to what I suppose some legislators thought were abuses."

The new regs also require students in Cuba to be enrolled in degree programs at the institutions sponsoring the courses. They also permit only full-time, permanent employees of those institutions to accompany students.

Asked for an explanation, Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise had this to say: "Overall, we're focusing on keeping travel-related dollars out of the Cuban economy, which is ultimately controlled by Castro. The regulations reflect our effort to ensure that only serious and legitimate educational activities are taking place."

Meanwhile, other schools have Cuba programs in progress, even now.

Duke University sent 14 students to Cuba in June. Duke official Amanda Kelso said the programs are still in place and that "we have not been contacted by OFAC."

City College of San Francisco continues to offer its students the opportunity to study and "experience the beat of rumba drumming and dance." Brethren College also had students in Cuba during June, and the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts will continue its programs as will several dozen other schools.

Less adventurous are some activity-oriented people-to-people programs.

David Mozer, who runs the International Bicycle Fund--one of dozens of organizations offering biking tours to Africa and Cuba--is apprehensive about future programs. In the late 1990s, Mozer had up to 100 participants a year but is now down to 40 this year.

"We're not sure that we are going to run a program next November," said Mozer. "Both governments are making things difficult for people-to-people programs, and the Cuban government has been raising license fees."

ANTI-EMBARGO GROUPS SEEK CONFRONTATION

Although money-making people-to-people programs feel OFAC's heat, others revel in it.

African Awareness Association, led by Banbose Chango, a labor organizer from Richmond, Va., is leading a group of 10 activists to Cuba on Jul. 2.

Chango told CubaNews that African Awareness will join with the Venceremos Brigade which has 70 to 80 people going to Cuba at the same time, along with Pastors for Peace, which will be heading to Cuba via Mexico with 100 tons of humanitarian supplies.

As a matter of principle, these groups have refused to apply for a license under the terms of the embargo, noting that "to do so would be a de facto recognition of an immoral policy."

Declares Rev. Lucius Walker, executive director of Pastors for Peace: "By our presence together in Cuba and in this challenge, as citizens of the United States, Mexico, Canada and a number of other countries, we will act as ambassadors: for a people-to-people foreign policy which is based on justice, compassion, mutual respect; and for the rejection of the blockade and the ban on travel to Cuba."
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Author:Norvell, Douglass G.
Publication:CubaNews
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:817
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